JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The U.S. had its best performance of the three-game send-off series ahead of the World Cup, beating Nigeria 2-1 at EverBank Field with the help of two goals by Jozy Altidore.
Here are my three quick thoughts on the game:
• Altidore got his mojo back
No U.S. forward has scored a goal at the World Cup since 2002, and Altidore needed to get on the scoresheet in the last friendly before the World Cup to give himself a shot of confidence ahead of Brazil. Altidore has had a tough year, scoring just twice in all competitions last season for Sunderland and going scoreless in his first three U.S. games of 2014 until Saturday. But his two goals will help. The first was easy enough, a tap-in at the end of a marvelous move up the right flank by Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson. But Altidore’s second was a thing of beauty. Taking an expert ball from Michael Bradley on the break, Altidore cut inside with a vengeance against Joseph Yobo and blasted his shot past Vincent Enyeama. Absolutely gorgeous.
• Johnson is the real deal at right back
Just a few weeks ago we were all thinking right back was a huge problem spot for the U.S., with visions of group-stage foes Cristiano Ronaldo and Marco Reus terrorizing that flank. But Johnson has been a two-way star since taking over the right back spot full-time over the last three games. Defensively he’s solid, with the athleticism to keep up with wingers like Victor Moses on Saturday. And on the attacking end Johnson has become a menace, pushing upfield again after his goal against Turkey last week to unsettle the Nigerians and provide the assist on Altidore’s first goal. In fact, Johnson may well be the U.S.’s most dangerous player right now, and not many were saying that a couple weeks ago. (Nor will he have to deal in Brazil with Germany’s Reus, who is out of the World Cup with an injury.)
• Some other thoughts:
The U.S. can’t afford to switch off for even a moment. For the second straight game, a late penalty concession made the final minutes dicier than they should have been … Jurgen Klinsmann’s surprising lineup included using all three of Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, and it paid off. The U.S. was contained and organized but still able to spring into its transitions with quickness and skill. Beckerman was solid sitting in front of the back line, and Jones did fine on the left side of the midfield diamond. As for Bradley, his completion rate isn’t as high in a more advanced position (whose is?), but he delivered some killer balls … One big gain of the final 30 minutes: No injuries. Matt Besler and Clint Dempsey got hit by some hard challenges and went down, but they got up quickly. The U.S. could’t afford to be part of the injury bug plaguing World Cup teams and avoided it … Tim Howard got his 100th cap and had a heartwarming moment with his two kids and parents on the field before the game. Howard wasn’t terribly busy on Saturday but did well on the shots he did face ... I wouldn't be surprised to see this same lineup against Ghana on June 16 in Natal.